"How can we be culture builders? How can we be people who build up our classroom and our group of fellow learners so that we can be the best that we can be?" On Pink Shirt Day, Alumni Jeremy Downing discusses the work he is doing to encourage pro-social behaviour.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Did you always want to be a teacher?
Kia ora, my name is Jeremy Downing. I was part of the 2015 Teach First NZ Cohort, and I am in my fourth year of teaching Drama and English at James Cook High School. I always wanted to be a teacher, but one barrier for me was the well-publicised lie that “those who can’t do, teach”, which made me feel like teaching was selling out. In reality, teaching was absolutely the space that I was supposed to be in. Encouraging young people to write, to read, to tell stories, to act, and to perform not only allows me to work within an area that I’m passionate about, but has also influenced my own art form and involvement in those areas beyond the classroom.
What excites you about teaching?
I love the combination of the predictable and the unpredictable. Although in some senses, schools are very structured places, with rigid term dates, timetables and expectations, what’s exciting for me is that within that structure you never know what version of people you will have in front of you. Working with such a diverse group of people is exciting and means that no two days are the same.
Can you tell us about your main foci on the school grounds this year?
I started the Drama Programme at my school from scratch a couple of years ago, and have been developing it since. One of the things that became very apparent very quickly is that in order to have a successful drama class, there needs to be a group of people who are working positively together. In the big open drama space, I need young people to be working in groups, collaborating, and feeling comfortable to step outside of their comfort zone. If there are people in that class that are showing anti-social behaviours, it’s very difficult for that culture to be formed. I have been on a huge journey, not just as an educator but also just as a citizen, on how to build positive culture that lifts people up, and allows them to be the best version of themselves. How can we be culture builders? How can we be people who build up our classroom and our group of fellow learners so that we can be the best that we can be?
How have you gone about putting this into motion?
Jeremy Downing, as told to Sophie Jones